This excerpt from H. Nigel Thomas's essay on Afro-Caribbean immigrant existence in Toronto was originally published in Confluences 2: Essays on the New Canadian Literature, edited by Nurjehan Aziz. It appears on Salon .ll. by kind permission of Mawenzi House.
From Kenneth Radu: Comment on Writing in the Time of Nationalism
I quote my favourite sentences from Linda Leith’s important book, Writing in the Time of Nationalism: From Two Solitudes to Blue Metropolis: “It’s so easy to turn everything that has to do with language into a joke. So easy and so risky, except at carnival time, when everything is permitted, except for what is not permitted, even at carnival time.” There in summation is the drama of sensitivities, contradictions, paradoxes, linguistic ironies and self-censorship in a dynamic city. The book has understandably been critically well-received. I merely add my personal appreciation. A persuasive combination of memoir and cultural history, composed out of full knowledge of the events into which Leith courageously immersed herself and led the charge, if I may use a military metaphor here, against literary ignorance and contempt, her book clearly sets forth what happened to writing in Montreal and Canada during the 70’s and 80’s, well into the 90’s. With the rise of Canadian and Quebec nationalism, a new generation of English writers in Montreal, perhaps with an exception or two, became more or less invisible without and within the borders of Quebec. Because we wrote in English in Quebec, we ceased to all intents and purposes to exist in the public mind. Leith set about to encourage and support an Anglo-literary revival which reached a culminating point in her founding of the unique and vital, multi-lingual Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. Acquiring alliances, sympathetic friends and helpmates along the way, she reminds us of what a complex and extraordinary time it was for the English writer in Quebec, and perhaps still is in some respects. As she says: “Like many battles, this is a battle that cannot be won. What matters is coping with complexity, with one another.” What a remarkable phrase that is: “coping with complexity.” Written in a gracefully accessible prose and enlivened by a wry wit, unaffectedly modest but confident in tone, alert to resentments and undercurrents, on this subject which she knows so intimately and thoroughly, Leith’s book is a necessary read. Besides, I am indexed. And one feels one has arrived when one has been indexed.
Kenneth Radu has published five novels, three volumes of poetry, a memoir, and four collections of short stories, the latest being Sex in Russia (DC Books Canada). He has won the Quebec Writers’ Federation prize for fiction twice, for A Private Performance (Véhicule Press) and Distant Relations (Oberon Press). His first book of stories, The Cost of Living (The Muses’ Company/La compagnie des Muses) was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. Now retired from teaching, he lives with his wife in St-Polycarpe, a village not far from Montreal.